Waterways Commission gives Fishweir Creek dredging project ‘green light’

Waterways Commission gives Fishweir Creek dredging project ‘green light’
Big Fishweir Creek from the bridge over St. Johns Avenue looking toward the St. Johns River

The long-awaited dredging of Big Fishweir Creek has inched forward with the approval by the City of Jacksonville Waterways Commission of an ordinance to authorize a partnership between the City and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Under the partnership, the city would fund 35 percent of the $6.5 million project that would be undertaken by the Corps. About $2.5 million is already in the City budget for the project. The City would be responsible for long-term maintenance.

Big Fishweir Creek is classified by the state as a Class III Waterbody, which means it should be swimmable and fishable, but it has been years since it has been either. The Corps recommended the dredging in 2007 but lack of funding has delayed the project.

The work would include removing silt and invasive plants and planting new vegetation to restore the ecosystem and make the waterway navigable and swimmable, City Engineer Tom Fallin told the Commission at a Feb. 14 meeting. The dredge material would be used to form an island at the mouth of the creek.

“Even though this project involves sedimentation removal, the purpose is aquatic restoration,” Fallin said. “We want to create channels for the manatees and plant suitable species to improve the habitat and water quality.”

District 14 Councilman Jim Love, who represents the area, noted the creek doesn’t have much vegetation because it has been killed by the sediment that has accumulated over the years, mostly from construction.

“About 35 years ago I could take a small boat up there,” Love said. “I know a lot of people are excited about it because they remember what it was like many years ago.”

Love said he thinks the restoration also will be welcomed by the future residents of the RiverVue apartments being built at the site of the former St. Johns Village.

“Once you get nice-looking wildlife and plants, it’s going to raise the value of all the homes. That raises the ad valorem, so we’ll get our money back,” Love said. “It will pay for itself over a long period of time.”

Several people had questions about whether the dredging would be self-sustaining or have to be redone every few years.

Fallin said the Corps’ model for the project is self-sustaining and other measures by the Public Works Department are being taken to ensure that silt doesn’t get into the newly dredged creek.

“Is there no neighborhood action plan to protect the investment?” asked District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer, commission chair. “I really think that should be part of the focus. If we are going to invest this much money to get the creek back, how do we protect it?”

Public access to the creek also was an issue.

Fallin said the Parks and Recreation Department had evaluated areas around the creek and found two sites with City right-of-way that could be used for public access. In addition, Stinson Park on the Ortega River to the south could be used to launch kayaks.

Bob Skalitzky of Parks and Recreation said the launch at Stinson Park is being repaired after damage by Hurricane Irma, but would be functional by the time the dredging is complete.

The Commission approved the measure, which now heads for City Council committees. Boyer said one issue she wants to look at more closely is whether the City would be liable if private docks or bulkheads are damaged by the dredging.

Fallin said the liability would fall to the contractor, but Boyer was skeptical because the City ended up paying for damage to private docks during the dredging of Fishing Pen Creek.

By Lilla Ross
Resident Community News

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